What is Neuropathy?
Before addressing this question I need to point out that, while the definition of neuropathy is fairly precise, the understanding of where it comes from does not always reflect that precision. Neuropathy happens when nerves outside the spinal cord and brain become damaged. This is generally called peripheral neuropathy.
There are three very basic and broad categorizations of neuropathy. There are over a hundred separate variations of neuropathy, so when I say basic, I really mean basic.
Mononeuropathy- There is only one nerve involved in this category of neuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a classic example of this.
Multiple Mononeuropathy- There are two or more nerves individually affected in this category. Those unlucky enough to get hit with two instances of this may experience something like carpal tunnel syndrome coupled with a nerve palsy of some type.
Polyneuropathy- There is more a generalized involvement of an area of nerves in this category. The most prevalent example would be diabetic neuropathy.
With so many different variations of neuropathy, finding the exact cause of the disorder can be difficult. When there can be no known cause defined, this is called idiopathic neuropathy. Idiopathic neuropathy makes up approximately 30% of all documented cases of neuropathy. Another 30% of all documented cases come from diabetes. This category of neuropathy is known as diabetic neuropathy. Approximately 50% of all those diagnosed with diabetes develop diabetic neuropathy. The remaining 40% of all neuropathy cases come from varying causes, including:
- Trauma or pressure on nerves, repetitive motions tend to cause this, typing on a keyboard for instance.
- Poor nutrition or vitamin deficiencies, often a lack of B vitamins
- Autoimmune diseases
- Tumors that press against nerves
- Diseases and infections
- Inherited disorders (hereditary neuropathies)
- Poison, exposure to heavy metals, certain medications and cancer treatments
The symptoms of neuropathy are greatly dependent upon the location of the affected nerves and the classification that the neuropathy falls under. Many times, with polyneuropathy, the affected nerve cluster can radiate pain to a greater area of the body because of its centralized location. If the nerves affected are a motor (movement) cluster than common symptoms may include muscle weakness, cramps and spasms. This type of damage can often lead to a loss of balance and coordination.
Sensory (feeling) nerve clusters that are damaged by neuropathy can cause a plethora of symptoms. Most common among these are an impaired sense of position, tingling, numbness, pinching and pain. This type of damage is often described as burning, freezing, or electric-like. On the opposite side of the coin, many have described an actual lack of feeling in the area where the damage occurs, a numbness of sorts.
Autonomic (internal processes) nerve damage affects internal organs and functions that we usually don't pay attention too. This damage often leads to abnormal blood pressure and heart rate, reduced ability to perspire, constipation, bladder dysfunction, diarrhea, incontinence, sexual dysfunction and thinning of the skin.
I encourage any and all who may be experiencing any type of pain that has been described above to get some advice from a health professional, neuropathy is not something that should be left unattended.